Tomb Raider

Hollywood is notorious for never throwing anything away. Even when they apparently squeeze the last drop of box office dollars from a franchise, it is left dormant until they can re-use it. ‘Tomb Raider’ is a good example. After the success of the previous two films featuring Angelina Jolie, the ‘Tomb Raider’ series rises from the cinematic depths. Based on the popular computer game series, the films aren’t high art but prove old ideas are always recycled for new generations.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a care-free daughter of her adventure-seeking father Richard (Dominic West). Several years after he disappears and leaves his fortune to her, Lara aims to discover the truth. Armed with an assortment of deadly weapons and her wits, she travels to the wilds of the Japanese coast. Landing on one of its mysterious islands, her mission quickly descends into chaos. With other organisations wanting to find Richard for their own evil ends, time is running out for Lara to save her father and herself.

‘Tomb Raider’ is heavily formulaic filled with a plethora of action. Anyone keen to watch a skimpily clad lady do death-defying feats will find much joy. That doesn’t mean ‘Tomb Raider’ is a total disaster as it has some good points. One of them is Vikander who effectively embodies her character’s spit-fire persona. Whilst she has vulnerabilities, her determination to see things through comes across well. Vikander is the best of the cast with her co-stars wildly over-acting a conventional script.

The aptly named Roar Uthaug directs with flair. He’s clearly been hired for his action finesse and ability to generate tension. The screenplay is straight out of the ‘Indiana Jones’ textbook with ‘Tomb Raider’ and also echoing cliffhanging 1930’s serials such as ‘The Perils of Pauline’. The screen-writers deserve kudos for their imaginative ways in which Croft untangles out of various scrapes. These add to the fun with the lush cinematography teasing out the vibrant colour such a comic-book style movie needs.

‘Tomb Raider’ may be a load of nonsense with its predictability creaking to the finale. As a time-waster it works and never runs the risk of being boring. Whether ‘Tomb Raider’ is a success won’t matter much to Hollywood as the multitude of related merchandising should see it make a profit. Franchises such as these may temporarily vanish but, like the artefacts uncovered by Lara Croft, they eventually find new life if the price is right.

Rating out of 10: 6

Red Sparrow

Although the Cold War is long gone, films like ‘Red Sparrow’ have kept the espionage flame alive. Spies never truly go away with the art of deception still commonplace. Writers like John LeCarre and Len Deighton have never run out of material for their books. The ongoing success of the James Bond spy series also attests to the popularity of the genre with the franchise continually raking in a fortune. Based on the novel by Jason Matthews, ‘Red Sparrow’ offers its own unique spin as it charts a course in a shadowy world.

Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a Russian spy who has been trained in Sparrow School. A Russian intelligence service overseen by headmistress Matron (Charlotte Rampling), the school gives Dominika her first assignment. Tasked with seducing CIA agent Nate (Joel Edgerton), who poses a huge threat to Russian secrets, Dominika uses any means to ensnare her prey. Using her body and brains as a weapon, she is surprised when she falls for Nate. Events rapidly deteriorate as allegiances crumble and retribution surfaces.

‘Red Sparrow’ has caused controversy in its attitude towards sex and violence. Both have long been hot-button topics which ‘Red Sparrow’ pushes to the max. Lawrence’s matter-of-fact delivery as Dominika conjures a broken person in search of her identity. Manipulated by others, she aims to become the manipulator in a twist-driven plot worthy of any thriller. Lawrence delivers a brave performance that may be confronting but reveals her character’s uninhibited ambitions.

Francis Lawrence’s edgy direction ensures unpredictability at every turn. Russia’s grey mean streets have never looked more stark with the cinematography revealing many dark corners. ‘Red Sparrow’ discards any fantastical spy elements seen elsewhere and opts for brutal realism. The action and savage brutality is painted in vivid strokes that almost covers up the often unnecessarily long run-time. The score and performances successfully evoke the urgent danger ‘Red Sparrow’ needs.

‘Red Sparrow’ may often be difficult viewing, but it dares to be different in an era of cinematic conformity. It’s another solid outing from Jennifer Lawrence who is slowly carving out an interesting career. Spies haven’t behaved this badly for a while and, as ‘Red Sparrow’ proves, it stills pays to question their apparent trustworthiness.

Rating out of 10: 7